KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The University of Tennessee shelled out more than $100,000 in less than two months to investigate potential NCAA Level I and II violations that led to the firings of several coaches and staff, including former head coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Termination letters for two assistant UT coaches reveal that the university and the NCAA are looking into possible player recruiting violations.
After learning about the potential violations, the university said it hired Kansas City-based Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC, a law firm that specializes in investigating NCAA violations.
UT provided billing statements it received in the past two months.
So far, the law firm has billed UT $106,642 for its services. This only includes consulting work and expenses that occurred during the months of November and December.
The documents show the law firm began work on November 19 and two lawyers traveled to Knoxville between November 22 and 24. Lawyers then worked nearly every day in December, minus Christmas.
Between November 19 and December 31, lawyers put in close to 318 hours of work. Excluding nearly $2,700 in travel expenses and $30 in long-distance calls -- UT is paying them roughly $326.75 per hour of work.
In mid-January, UT fired head coach Jeremy Pruitt, along with assistant coaches Brian Niedermeyer and Shelton Felton, four on-campus recruiting staff, a football quality control analyst coach, and the director and assistant director of football player personnel.
Officials said the firings were related to an ongoing internal and NCAA investigation about possible Level 1 and Level 2 violations within the football program. No details about the possible violations have been released because the investigation is still underway.
The nearly identical termination letters for both Niedermayer and Felton reveal that the violations were related to recruiting.
"It is clear from the information that we have received that you were aware of the arrangement of impermissible recruiting visits and the provision of impermissible inducements to prospective student-athletes in violations of NCAA rules, or at a minimum had reasonable cause to believe that violations may be occurring," the letters state.
It goes on to say, "Your failures are likely to lead to significant penalties to the University and has jeopardized the eligibility of our student-athletes."
According to the letters, Felton met with the investigative team, which included NCAA enforcement staff and UT's attorneys, for a 3 and a half-hour interview on January 13, then with Director of Athletics Phillip Fulmer on January 18.
Niedermeyer spent five hours talking to the investigative team on January 13, but declined to meet with Fulmer on January 18.
Both men were suspended with pay and given until 5 p.m. on January 19 to respond to the concerns within the letters before their termination became final.
Jeremy Pruitt's termination letter did not mention specifics about the violations that occurred, but blamed Pruitt's "material neglect or lack of reasonable prevention compliance measures."
"In addition, the university has concluded that the NCAA will likely find that you failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the football program and/or monitor the activities of the coaches and staff members who report, directly or indirectly, to you," the termination letter continued.
"Your failures are likely to lead to significant penalties to the university and has jeopardized the eligibility of our student-athletes," the letter said, underscoring the seriousness of the alleged violations and the potential sanctions or fines UT may now face.
The other seven employees were given form letters of termination, signed by Fulmer, that read, "I have determined that your employment is no longer in the best interest of the University of Tennessee Department of Athletics. As a result, the University is hereby terminating your employment effective immediately."
Fulmer has since retired, though Chancellor Donde Plowman made clear that he was in no way involved in the possible violations.